It’s My Nature
The story of the frog and the scorpion is attributable to Aesop, but many cultures have a similar fable. Briefly, the scorpion asks the frog for a lift across the river. The frog objects, claiming the scorpion will sting him. The scorpion applies reason, saying if he stings the frog they both will drown. Convinced, the frog gives him a ride on his back and — surprise! — the scorpion stings the frog. ”Why did you do that?!” cries the frog. “It’s my nature” says the scorpion.
There are several morals to the story, including: Don’t trust strangers, Don’t be so gullible, Trust your gut before reason, Some people never change, etc. But it’s all quite cynical. One might say it caters to defeatism.
Why does the sloth move so slowly? It’s his nature. No one expects to change a sloth’s way of life. But for Catholics, sloth is one of the seven deadly sins. It’s a character flaw that can be changed with diligence. Technically we’re animals, but we humans hold ourselves to a higher standard.
Behavioral expectations originated thousands of years ago when hunter gatherers settled in agricultural communities. We had to find ways to litigate squabbles as tasks became specialized. Being a thief, rapist or murderer didn’t cut it. “It’s my nature” was a lame excuse for bad behavior.
Today, few of us believe in the supernatural. Everything that occurs and has occurred is natural. Science has demonstrated that lightning strikes when an imbalance of charged particles builds up in different regions of the atmosphere, not because the gods are angry. Many such formerly magical events have been demystified by rigorous scientific pursuit. So, if everything is natural, why do we still believe in right and wrong? Isn’t all that just a vestige of obsolete Biblical teaching?
Those thousands of years ago, laws were either invented or handed down by God. Whichever you believe, laws have a certain logic behind them. It is in our best interest to obey laws, to keep the peace, but obedience also serves to reinforce the authority of our leaders. It is our nature to develop hierarchies in a complex society with divisions of labor. Righteousness, as opposed to wrongishness, was attributed to kings. Being more superstitious back then, we bought into the idea that God had appointed the king, so we obeyed, under fear of death and/or of displeasing the gods. This was, again, our nature.
But we’re still animals, according to science. It is also our nature to cheat, cut corners, steal, and even kill, if we think we might get away with it or if our passions get the better of us. After years of resisting the idea, many of us acknowledge that we evolved from apes. It is not our nature to be so humble. It is natural to commit to denial and elevate our place among the common beasts. And there are plenty of examples — written language, advanced technology — to present as evidence that we are a special species, superior to all other lifeforms on Earth.
But when we declare that everything is natural, everything is neutralized. We may as well say “It is what it is.” The statement defeats all moral imperatives. Is the invention of laws of society natural to human behavior, or are the laws themselves natural and independent of human invention? Were the mathematical foundations of physics invented or discovered? Scientists have revealed the laws of nature, they didn’t invent them. One can only concede that scientists have interpreted these laws. Can the same be said of morality?
I propose that the knowledge of right and wrong was discovered — as mythologized by Adam and Eve — not invented, and that these laws, like the laws of physics, exist outside of ourselves as cardinal rules, just as the laws of physics existed prior to our discovery of them. As intelligent creatures it is our moral duty to behave righteously, not a mere convenience to maintain a stable economy. To declare all sorts of bad behavior natural and our laws arbitrary only erodes our higher calling.
Furthermore, if all laws of both physics and morality existed before we discovered them, where did they come from? Did they all spring from nothingness as cosmologists claim? If the complexity of the laws of physics are any indication, it would seem a greater mind than our puny ape brains can fathom initiated these laws, as well as the laws of morality. Our knowledge of good and evil was not invented but discovered, offered to us by a very patient God.